From time to time the authorities haul in some renegade cheese maker, and those who love bureaucratized food safety all breath a sigh of relief. This kind of tyranny is heavy-handed enough to get noticed by those who yearn for food freedom — as I do — but not so noticed generally that we can get the food fascists to stop it. Yet.
There are two basic points that need to be made about this. The first is that the government does have a role in food safety — but it is not the role of preventative regulation. Rather, in a realm of food libertarianism, the government would set the definitions and standards. This is what a fluid ounce is, and that is what counts as cleaning a chicken.
These standards would not be enforced by food inspectors before the fact, but would rather be used whenever an action had been brought by a dissatisfied or food-poisoned customer. The civil magistrate would publish, before the fact, what weights and measures they are going to use to adjudicate legal actions and disputes. An action could be brought either against Tyson or Ma Beedle’s Chicken Ranch.
Once the contaminated food were traced back to the offending source, if it were shown that the problem had been caused because Ma Beedle or Tyson had different views (than reasonable people do) on what cleaning a chicken meant, then then the assigned damages would be more severe. But the food producer would be liable for the costs associated with the problem, even if the contamination slipped through generally reasonable processes.
When it come to matters of food safety, anybody who has had a batch of bad oysters can attest to the fact that we need a referee to sort things out after the fact. Feelings can run high.
The second big issue has to do with where the real threats to food freedom are actually coming from. Before saying what follows I do want to note that I believe alternative food producers should be free to sell their unpasteurized milk off the back of their pick-up truck if they want to. We are all Christians here, and we all have to go to Heaven sometime. I believe that in a free society, we should all be allowed to take our own risks.
The price of this risk taking is that there must be no whining when the price of that risk comes due — whether for the customer, who got what he paid for, or for the proprietor of the small family farm that will be put out of business by one bad batch of milk. The guys who drive their milk around the country in eighteen wheelers will not be put under by one bad batch, and this is part of the cost of freedom. Freedom can be harder on those who don’t have as much money. But it is still worth it for all of us.
What we cannot have is a system that regulates the “big guy” and then leaves the little guy alone. Once establish regulations before the fact, then the big guys will get control of the regulators. “Regulations” to “reform everything” is how we get crony capitalism. This means if you want freedom for the little guy you have to have it for the big guy.
And this relates to one other observation about food freedom. For every small alternative dairyman being oppressed by an overweening state, there are a thousand conventional merchants being oppressed. Food freedom means food freedom. This should include, on a equal footing, the guy who wants to sell you his curds and whey right out of the cow almost, and the guy who wants to sell you 16 ounces of sody pop.
In doing this, we have to distinguish levels of intrusiveness and bossiness, represented by the conventional approach to food safety, and the new foodie approach. As should be plain from what I have written above, I do have foundational disagreements with our current approach to food safety, and want to see it completely reformed. The old system was the set up for the new tyrants. But I still want to make a distinction.
In the old days, health inspectors would drop in on restaurants in order to enforce basic hygiene, and to prevent any of the customers from departing this world in paroxysms of pain later that same week. There was a fairly straight line connection between what they were seeking to discourage and what they were trying to prevent — a line that just lasted for just hours.
The new cries for regulation coming from what might be called the foodie left are being done in the name of health and safety (just like the old days), but they are not trying to prevent agonizing deaths later this week. Rather, they are trying to usher in a food utopia, by means of regulations and taxes. They have a vision for the good life and, by George, you had better come along. They want it mandated that your apple will have been locally grown, which has nothing to do with dying a slow death as far as I can see.
The foodie left are totalitarians of the plate. All the frenzies that they get going, whether it is about sugar, or gluten, or locally produced, and so forth, are frenzies that serve the same function that the global warming frenzy tried to produce — more state power, exhaustive state power.